The Atlanta Braves may be short on quality pitchers during this shortened season but appear to be long on capable hitters. Whether that transitions to a successful run in the playoffs remains to be seen.
And who could have seen this coming? Consider that the two hitters that are normally penciled atop the Braves batting order have missed considerable time this year with injuries. Entering the Braves’ weekend series with the Washington Nationals, Ronald Acuna Jr. had played in just 23 games. Second baseman Ozzie Albies had been sidelined since Aug. 4 with an injured wrist. The dynamic duo that combined for 229 runs and 187 RBIs last season have totaled just 28 hits this year.
But the Braves offense has not missed a beat, though the lineup can look odd at times. Never did I imagine Freddie Freeman to bat in the No. 2 hole but manager Brian Snitker had to be creative with his lineup. And it’s worked. Entering Friday’s doubleheader against the Washington Nationals, the Braves were third in the National League in runs per game. Again, that is without an MVP caliber player like Acuna and Albies, an all-star.
So how are they doing it? The biggest keys have been the offseason additions of outfielder Marcell Ozuna and Travis D’Arnaud. Through 36 games, Ozuna had already belted 12 homers and driven in 31 runs and jumped into the MVP discussion, especially following last Tuesday, Sept. 1 when he battered the Boston Red Sox for three homers at Fenway Park. His presence is comparable to what Josh Donaldson provided the Braves last season when he followed the Freeman in the lineup. Ozuna is setting himself up for a big payday next season. Not sure if it will be with the Braves but it will be with somebody.
The other addition was D’Arnaud behind the plate. He’s already compiled a .322 average and 18 RBIs in just 23 games.
Other players have stepped up, most notably Austin Riley at third base. He’s caught fire of late and driven in 21 runs this year, though he still needs to cut down on strikeouts (33).
Thankfully the Braves have swung for the fences this year because they’ve been missing quality pitching outside of Max Fried and the few starts from rookie Ian Anderson. That may have to be the formula for any postseason success the Braves have this year, but will it last?
Playoff baseball is much different. Pitching is so much better, and you’re likely to face a team’s ace twice, if not three times in a series. Can these Braves hit against the likes of New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom, Chicago Chubs veteran Yu Darvsh or Los Angeles Dodgers future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw or future ace Walker Buehler? I have my doubts.
They’ve been shut down before this season and we know all about their postseason struggles recently. But this is how they’re constructed this year. There are no Glavines or Smoltzs or Madduxs to pitch the Braves to a championship. They’ll have to overpower teams with their offense.
That’s their recipe for success this year.
——Clint Thompson is a special contributor to The Union-Recorder.